History of videotelephony
The history of videotelephony covers the historical development of several technologies which enable the use of live video in addition to voice telecommunications. The concept of videotelephony was first popularized in the late 1870s in both the United States and Europe, although the basic sciences to permit its very earliest trials would take nearly a half century to be discovered. This was first embodied in the device which came to be known as the video telephone, or videophone, and it evolved from intensive research and experimentation in several telecommunication fields, notably electrical telegraphy, telephony, radio, and television.
The development of the crucial video technology first started in the latter half of the 1920s in the United Kingdom and the United States, spurred notably by John Logie Baird and AT&T's Bell Labs. This occurred in part, at least with AT&T, to serve as an adjunct supplementing the use of the telephone. A number of organizations believed that videotelephony would be superior to plain voice communications. However video technology was to be deployed in analog television broadcasting long before it could become practical—or popular—for videophones.
Videotelephony developed in parallel with conventional voice telephone systems from the mid-to-late 20th century. Very expensive videoconferencing systems rapidly evolved throughout the 1980s and 1990s from proprietary equipment, software and network requirements to standards-based technologies that were readily available to the general public at a reasonable cost. Only in the late 20th century with the advent of powerful video codecs combined with high-speed Internet broadband and ISDN service did videotelephony become a practical technology for regular use.
With the rapid improvements and popularity of the Internet, videotelephony has become widespread thru the deployment of video-enabled mobile phones, plus videoconferencing and computer webcams which utilize Internet telephony. In the upper echelons of government, business and commerce, telepresence technology, an advanced form of videoconferencing, has helped reduce the need to travel.
- 1 Early history: 1876–1935
- 2 World's first public videophone service: Germany 1936–1940
- 3 AT&T Picturephone: 1964
- 4 Other early videophones: 1968–1999
- 5 Videophone improvements: post-2000
- 6 Current videophone usage
- 7 Videoconferencing: 1968 to present
- 8 Webcams: 1991 to present
- 9 Telepresence: 1993 to present
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
Early history: 1876–1935
Barely two years after the telephone was first patented in the United States in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell, an early concept of a combined videophone and wide-screen television called a telephonoscope was conceptualized in the popular periodicals of the day. It was also mentioned in various early science fiction works such as Le Vingtième siècle. La vie électrique (The 20th century. The electrical life) and other works written by Albert Robida, and was also sketched in various cartoons by George du Maurier as a fictional invention of Thomas Edison. One such sketch was published on December 9, 1878 in Punch magazine.
The term 'telectroscope' was also used in 1878 by French writer and publisher Louis Figuier, to popularize an invention wrongly interpreted as real and incorrectly ascribed to Dr. Alexander Graham Bell. Written under the pseudonym "Electrician", an article claimed that "an eminent scientist" had invented a device whereby objects or people anywhere in the world "....could be seen anywhere by anybody". The device, among other functions, would allow merchants to transmit pictures of their wares to their customers, and the contents of museum collections to be made available to scholars in distant cities...."[Note 1] In the era prior to the advent of broadcasting, electrical "seeing" devices were conceived as adjuncts to the telephone, thus creating the concept of a videophone.
Fraudulent reports of 'amazing' advances in video telephones would be publicized as early as 1880 and would reoccur every few years, such as the episode of 'Dr. Sylvestre' of Paris who claimed in 1902 to have invented a powerful (and inexpensive) video telephone, termed a 'spectograph', the intellectual property rights he believed were worth $5,000,000. After reviewing his claim Dr. Bell denounced the supposed invention as a "fairy tale", and publicly commented on the charlatans promoting bogus inventions for financial gain or self-promotion.
However Bell personally thought that videotelephony was achievable even though his contributions to its advancement were incidental. In April 1891, Dr. Alexander Graham Bell did actually record conceptual notes on an 'electrical radiophone', which discussed "....the possibility of seeing by electricity" using devices that employed tellurium or selenium imaging components. Bell wrote, decades prior to the invention of the image dissector:
Should it be found ... [that the image sensor] is illuminated, then an apparatus might be constructed in which each piece of selenium is a mere speck, like the head of a small pin, the smaller the better. The darkened selenium should be placed in a cup-like receiver which can fit over the eye ... Then, when the first selenium speck is presented to an illuminated object, it may be possible that the eye in the darkened receiver, should perceive, not merely light, but an image of the object ...
Bell went on to later predict that: "...the day would come when the man at the telephone would be able to see the distant person to whom he was speaking." The discoveries in physics, chemistry and materials science underlying video technology would not be in place until the mid-1920s, first being utilized in electromechanical television. More practical 'all-electronic' video and television would not emerge until 1939, but would then suffer several more years of delays before gaining popularity due to the onset and effects of World War II.
The compound name 'videophone' slowly entered into general usage after 1950, although 'video telephone' likely entered the lexicon earlier after video was coined in 1935. Prior to that time there appeared to be no standard terms for 'video telephone', with expressions such as 'sight-sound television system', 'visual radio' and nearly 20 others (in English) being used to describe the marriage of telegraph, telephone, television and radio technologies employed in early experiments.
Among the technological precursors to the videophone were telegraphic image transmitters created by several companies, such as the wirephoto used by Western Union, and the teleostereograph developed by AT&T's Bell Labs, which were forerunners of today's fax (facsimile) machines. Such early image transmitters were themselves based on previous work by Ernest Hummel and others in the 19th century. By 1927 AT&T had created its earliest electromechanical television-videophone called the ikonophone (from Greek: 'image-sound'), which operated at 18 frames per second and occupied half a room full of equipment cabinets. An early U.S. test in 1927 had their then-Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover address an audience in New York City from Washington, D.C; although the audio portion was two-way, the video portion was one-way with only those in New York being able to see Hoover.
By 1930, AT&T's 'two-way television-telephone' system was in full-scale experimental use. The Bell Labs' Manhattan facility devoted years of research to it during the 1930s, led by Dr. Herbert Ives along with his team of more than 200 scientists, engineers and technicians, intending to develop it for both telecommunication and broadcast entertainment purposes.
There were also other public demonstrations of "two-way television-telephone" systems during this period by inventors and entrepreneurs who sought to compete with AT&T, although none appeared capable of dealing with the technical issues of signal compression that Bell Labs would eventually resolve. Signal compression, and its later sibling data compression were fundamental to the issue of transmitting the very large bandwidth of low-resolution black and white video through the very limited capacity of low-speed copper PSTN telephone lines (higher resolution colour videophones would require even far greater capabilities).[Note 2] After the Second World War, Bell Labs resumed its efforts during the 1950s and 1960s, eventually leading to AT&T's Picturephone.
World's first public videophone service: Germany 1936–1940
In early 1936 the world's first public video telephone service, Germany's Gegensehn-Fernsprechanlagen (visual telephone system), was developed by Dr. Georg Schubert, who headed the Sudetengau verlagerten Fernseh-GmbH technical combine for television broadcasting technology. It was opened by the German Reichspost (post office) between Berlin and Leipzig, utilizing broadband coaxial cable to cover the distance of approximately 160 km (100 miles). Schubert's system, was based on Gunter Krawinkel's earlier research of the late-1920s that he displayed at the 1929 Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin (Berlin International Radio Exposition). Schubet's higher performance system employed mechanical television scanning and 20 cm (8 inch) square displays with a resolution of 180 lines (initially 150 lines), transmitting some 40,000 pixels per frame at 25 frames per second.
The system's opening was inaugurated by the Minister of Posts Paul von Eltz-Rübenach in Berlin on March 1, 1936, who viewed and spoke with Leipzig's chief burgomaster. It employed a Nipkow disk flying-spot scanner for its transmitter, and a cathode ray display tube with (an initial) resolution of 150 lines at its receiving-end videophone booth. The same coaxial cables were also used to distribute television programming.
In the initial service trial, broadband coaxial cable lines initially linked Berlin to Leipzig. After a period of experimentation the system entered public use and was soon extended another 160 km (100 miles) from Berlin to Hamburg, and then in July 1938 from Leipzig to Nuremberg and Munich. The system eventually operated with more than 1,000 km (620 miles) of coaxial cable transmission lines. The videophones were integrated within large public videophone booths, with two booths provided per city. Calls between Berlin and Leipzig cost RM3½, approximately one sixth of a British pound sterling, or about one-fifteenth of the average weekly wage. The video telephone equipment used in Berlin was designed and built by the German Post Office Laboratory. Videophone equipment used in other German cities were developed by Fernseh A.G., partly owned by Baird Television Ltd. of the U.K., inventors of the world's first functional television. During its life the German system underwent further development and testing, resulting in higher resolutions and a conversion to an all-electronic camera tube transmission system to replace its mechanical Nipkow scanning disc. While the system's image quality was primitive by modern standards, it was deemed impressive in contemporary reports of the era, with users able to clearly discern the hands on wristwatches.
The special public videophone service was offered to the general public, which had to visit special post office fernsehsprechstellen (video telephone booths, from "far sight speech place") simultaneously in their respective cities, but which at the same time also had Nazi political and propagandistic overtones similar to the broadcasting of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The German post office announced ambitious plans to extend their public videophone network to Cologne, Frankfurt and Vienna, Austria, but expansion plans were discontinued in 1939 with the start of the Second World War. After Germany subsequently became fully engaged in the war its public videophone system was closed in 1940, with its expensive inter-city broadband cables converted to telegraphic message traffic and broadcast television service.
A similar commercial post office system was also created in France during the late-1930s. The Deutsche Bundespost postal service would decades later develop and deploy its BIGFON (Broadband Integrated Glass-Fiber Optical Network) videotelephony network from 1981 to 1988, serving several large German cities, and also created one of Europe's first public switched broadband services in 1989.
AT&T Picturephone: 1964
In the United States AT&T's Bell Labs conducted extensive research and development of videophones, eventually leading to public demonstrations of its trademarked Picturephone product and service in the 1960s. Its large Manhattan experimental laboratory devoted years of technical research during the 1930s, led by Dr. Herbert Ives along with his team of more than 200 scientists, engineers and technicians. The Bell Labs early experimental model of 1930 had transmitted uncompressed video through multiple phone lines, a highly impractical and expensive method unsuitable for commercial use.
During the mid-1950s, its laboratory work had produced another early test prototype capable of transmitting still images every two seconds over regular analog PSTN telephone lines. The images were captured by the Picturephone’s compact Vidicon camera and then transferred to a storage tube or magnetic drum for transmission over regular phone lines at two-second intervals to the receiving unit, which displayed them on a small cathode-ray television tube.  AT&T had earlier promoted its experimental video for telephone service at the 1939 New York World's Fair. 
The more advanced Picturephone Mod I's early promotion included public evaluation displays at Disneyland and the 1964 New York World's Fair, with the first transcontinental videocall between the two venues made on April 20, 1964. The first Picturephone 'Mod I' (Model No. 1) demonstration units used small oval housings on swivel stands, intended to stand on desks. Similar AT&T Picturephone units were also featured at the Telephone Pavilion (also called the "Bell Telephone Pavilion") at Expo 67, an International World's Fair held in Montreal, Canada in 1967. Demonstration units were available at the fairs for the public to test, with fairgoers permitted to make videophone calls to volunteer recipients at other locations.
Right side view, housing removed, one of its printed circuit boards exposed. (Courtesy: Richard Diehl)
The United States would not see its first public videophone booths until 1964, when AT&T installed their earliest commercial videophone units, the Picturephone "Mod I", in booths that were set up in New York's Grand Central Terminal, Washington D.C., and Chicago. Its system was the result of decades of research and development at Bell Labs, its principal supplier, Western Electric, plus other researchers working under contract to the Bell Labs. However the use of reservation time slots and their cost of US$16 (Washington, D.C. to New York) to $27 (New York to Chicago) (equivalent to $118 to $200 in 2012 dollars) for a three-minute call at the public videophone booths greatly limited their appeal resulting in their closure by 1968.
Picturephones were also later installed in the offices of Westinghouse and Alcoa in Pittsburgh, as well as other technology companies in that city. AT&T's commercial service in Pittsburgh started on June 30, 1970 with 38 Picturephones at eight companies, at a lease rate of $160 per month ($947/month in 2012 dollars) for the service, which provided for 30 minutes of videocalling time per month, with extra minutes costing 25 cents each.[Note 3]
Color on AT&T's Picturephone was not employed with their early models. These Picturephone units packaged Plumbicon cameras and small CRT displays within their housings. The cameras were located atop their screens to help users see eye to eye. Later generation display screens were larger than in the original demonstration units, approximately six inches (15 cm) square in a roughly cubical cabinet.
- Further information: Picturephone technology
Lack of Picturephone success
At the time of its first launch, AT&T foresaw a hundred thousand Picturephones in use across the Bell System by 1975 . However by the end of July 1974, only five Picturephones were being leased in Pittsburgh, and U.S.-wide there were only a few hundred, mostly in Chicago. Unrelated difficulties at New York Telephone also slowed AT&T's efforts, and few customers signed up for the service in either city. At its peak Picturephone service had only about 500 subscribers, with the service fading away through the 1970s.
AT&T's initial Picturephone 'Mod I' (Model No. 1) and then its upgraded 'Mod II' programs, were a continuation of its many years of prior research during the 1920s, 1930s, late-1940s and the 1950s. Both Picturephone programs, like their experimental AT&T predecessors, were researched principally at its Bell Labs, formally spanned some 15 years and consumed more than US$500 million,[Note 4] eventually meeting with commercial failure. AT&T concluded that its early Picturephone was a "concept looking for a market" and discontinued its 'Mod II' service in the late 1970s.
AT&T would later market its VideoPhone 2500 to the general public from 1992 to 1995 with prices starting at US$1,500 (approximately $2,520 in current dollars) and later dropping to $1,000 ($1,630 in current dollars), marketed by its Global VideoPhone Systems unit. The VideoPhone 2500 was designed to provide low-frame rate compressed color video on ordinary Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) lines, circumventing the significantly higher cost ADSL telephone service lines used by several other videoconferencing manufacturers. Again, AT&T met with very little commercial success, selling only about 30,000 units, mainly outside the United States.
Despite AT&T's various videophone products meeting with commercial failure, they were widely viewed as technical successes which expanded the limits of the telecommunications sciences in several areas. Its videotelephony programs were critically acclaimed for their technical brilliance and even the novel uses they experimented with. The research and development programs conducted by Bell Labs were highly notable for their beyond-the-state-of-the-art results produced in materials science, advanced telecommunications, microelectronics and information technologies.
AT&T's published research additionally helped pave the way for other companies to later enter the field of videoconferencing. The company's videophones also generated significant media coverage in science journals, the general news media and in popular culture. The image of a futuristic AT&T videophone being casually used in the science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey, became iconic of both the movie and, arguably, the public's general view of the future.
Other early videophones: 1968–1999
Beginning in the late 1960s, several countries worldwide sought to compete with AT&T's advanced development of its Picturephone service in the United States. However such projects were research and capital intensive, and fraught with difficulties in being deployed commercially. This time period also saw the research, development and commercial roll-out of what would become powerful video compression and decompression software codecs, which would eventually lead to low cost videotelephony in the early 2000s.
France's post office telecommunications branch had earlier set up a commercial videophone system similar to the German Reichspost public videophone system of the late 1930s. In 1972 the defense and electronics manufacturer Matra was one of three French companies that sought to develop advanced videophones in the early 1970s, spurred by the AT&T's Picturephone in the United States. Initial plans by Matra included the deployment of 25 units to France's Centre national d'études des télécommunications (CNET of France Télécom) for their internal use. CNET intended to guide its initial use towards the business sector, to be later followed by personal home usage. Its estimated unit cost in 1971 was the equivalent of £325, with a monthly usage subscription charge of £3.35.
Studies of applications of videotelephony were conducted by CNET in France in 1972, with its first commercial applications for videophones appearing in 1984. The delay was due to the problem of insufficient bandwidth, with 2 Mb per second being required for transmitting both video and audio signals. The problem was solved worldwide by the creation of software for data encoding and compression via video coding and decoding algorithms, also known as codecs.
In Japan the Lumaphone was developed and marketed by Mitsubishi in 1985. The project was originally started by the Ataritel division of the Atari Video Game Company in 1983 under the direction of Atari's Steve Bristow. Atari then sold its division to Mitsubishi Electric in 1984. The Lumaphone was marketed by Mitsubishi Electric of America in 1986 as the Luma LU-1000, costing US$1,500,  designed with a small black and white video display, approximately 4 centimetres (1.6 in) in size, and a video camera adjacent to the display which could be blocked with a sliding door for privacy. Although promoted as a 'videophone', it operated similar to Bell Labs' early experimental image transfer phone of 1956, transmitting still images every 3–5 seconds over analog POTS lines. It could also be hooked up to a printer or connected to a regular TV or monitor for improved teleconferencing.
Mitsubishi also marketed its lower-cost VisiTel LU-500 image phone in 1988 costing about US$400, aimed at the consumer market. It came with reduced capabilities but had with a larger black and white display. Other Japanese electronic manufacturers marketed similar image transfer phones during the late-1980s, including Sony's PCT-15 (US$500), and two models from Panasonic, its WG-R2 (US$450) and its KX-TV10 (US$500).
Much later the Kyocera Corporation, an electronics manufacturer based in Kyoto, conducted a two year development campaign from 1997 to 1999 that resulted in the release of the VP-210 VisualPhone, the world's first mobile colour videophone that also doubled as a camera phone for still photos. The camera phone was the same size as similar contemporary mobile phones, but sported a large camera lens and a 5 cm (2 inch) colour TFT display capable of displaying 65,000 colors, and was able to process two video frames per second. The 155 gram (5.5 oz.) camera could also take 20 photos and convey them by e-mail, with the camera phone retailing at the time for 40,000 yen, about US$325 in 1999.
The VP-210 was released in May 1999 and used its single front-facing 110,000-pixel camera to send two images per second through Japan's PHS mobile phone network system. Although its frame rate was crude and its memory is considered tiny in the present day, the phone was viewed as "revolutionary" at the time of its release.
The Kyocera project was initiated at their Yokohama research and development center by Kazumi Saburi, one of their section managers. His explanation for the project was "Around that time, cellular handsets with enabled voice and SMS communication capabilities were considered to be just one among many personal communication tools. One day a simple idea hit us - 'What if we were able to enjoy talking with the intended person watching his/her face on the display?' We were certain that such a device would make cell phone communications much more convenient and enjoyable."
Saburi also stated that their R&D section had "nourished [the idea] for several years before" they received project approval from their top management which had encourage such forward-thinking research, because they "also believed that such a product would improve Kyocera's brand image." Their research showed that a "cell phone with a camera and color display provided a completely new value for users, It could be used as a phone, a camera and a photo album".
Technical challenges handled by about a dozen engineers at Kyocera over the two year development period included the camera module's placement within the phone at a time when electronic components had not been fully reduced in size, as well as increasing its data transmission rate. After its release the mobile video-camera phone was commercially successful, spawning several other competitors such as the DDI Pocket, and one from Vodafone K.K.
In Sweden, electronics maker Ericsson began developing a videophone in the mid-1960s, intending to market it to government, institutions, businesses and industry, but not to consumers due to AT&T's lack of success in that market segment. Tests were conducted in Stockholm, including trial communications in banking. Ultimately Ericsson chose not to proceed with further production.
In 1970 the British General Post Office had 16 demonstration models of its Viewphone built, meant to be the equivalent to AT&T's Picturephone. Their initial attempt at a first generation commercial videophone later lead to the British Telecom Relate 2000, which was released for sale in 1993, costing between £400-£500 each. The Relate 2000 featured a 74 millimetres (2.9 in) flip-up colour LCD display screen operating at a nominal rate of 8 video frames per second, which could be depressed to 3-4 frames per second if the PSTN bandwidth was limited. In the era prior to low-cost, high-speed broadband service, its video quality was found to be generally poor by the public with images shifting jerkily between frames, due to British phone lines that generally provided less than 3.4 kHz of bandwidth.  British Telecom had initially expected the device, manufactured by Marconi Electronics, to sell at a rate of 10,000 per year, but its actual sales were minimal. Its second generation videophone thus also proved to be commercially unsuccessful, similar to AT&T's VideoPhone 2500 of the same time period.
Videophone improvements: post-2000
Significant improvements in video call quality of service for the deaf occurred in the United States in 2003 when Sorenson Media Inc. (formerly Sorenson Vision Inc.), a video compression software coding company, developed its VP-100 model stand-alone videophone specifically for the deaf community. It was designed to output its video to the user's television in order to lower the cost of acquisition, and to offer remote control and a powerful video compression codec for unequaled video quality and ease of use with video relay services. Favourable reviews quickly led to its popular usage at educational facilities for the deaf, and from there to the greater deaf community.
Coupled with similar high-quality videophones introduced by other electronics manufacturers, the availability of high speed Internet, and sponsored video relay services authorized by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in 2002, VRS services for the deaf underwent rapid growth in that country.
Current videophone usage
The widest deployment of video telephony now occurs in mobile phones, as nearly all mobile phones supporting UMTS networks can work as videophones using their internal cameras, and are able to make video calls wirelessly to other UMTS users in the same country or internationally. As of the second quarter of 2007, there are over 131 million UMTS users (and hence potential videophone users), on 134 networks in 59 countries.
Videophones are increasingly used in the provision of telemedicine to the elderly and to those in remote locations, where the ease and convenience of quickly obtaining diagnostic and consultative medical services are readily apparent. In one single instance quoted in 2006: "A nurse-led clinic at Letham has received positive feedback on a trial of a video-link which allowed 60 pensioners to be assessed by medics without travelling to a doctor's office or medical clinic." A further improvement in telemedical services has been the development of new technology incorporated into special videophones to permit remote diagnostic services, such as blood sugar level, blood pressure and vital signs monitoring. Such units are capable of relaying both regular audiovideo plus medical data over either standard (POTS) telephone or newer broadband lines.
Videotelephony has also been deployed in corporate teleconferencing, also available through the use of public access videoconferencing rooms. A higher level of videoconferencing that employs advanced telecommunication technologies and high-resolution displays is called telepresence.
Today the principles, if not the precise mechanisms of a videophone are employed by many users worldwide in the form of webcam videocalls using personal computers, with inexpensive webcams, microphones and free videocalling Web client programs. Thus an activity that was disappointing as a separate service has found a niche as a minor feature in software products intended for other purposes.
According to Juniper Research, smartphone videophone users will reach 29 million by 2015 globally.
Videoconferencing: 1968 to present
Videoconferencing uses audio and video telecommunications to bring people at different sites together. This can be as simple as a conversation between people in private offices (point-to-point) or involve several (multipoint) sites in large rooms at multiple locations. Besides the audio and visual transmission of meeting activities, allied videoconferencing technologies can be used to share documents and display information on whiteboards.
Simple analog videophone communication could be established as early as the invention of the television. Such an antecedent usually consisted of two closed-circuit television systems connected via coax cable or radio. An example of that was the German Reich Postzentralamt (post office) video telephone network serving Berlin and several German cities via coaxial cables between 1936 and 1940.
During the first manned space flights, NASA used two radio-frequency (UHF or VHF) video links, one in each direction. TV channels routinely use this type of videotelephony when reporting from distant locations. The news media were to become regular users of mobile links to satellites using specially equipped trucks, and much later via special satellite videophones in a briefcase.
This technique was very expensive, though, and could not be used for applications such as telemedicine, distance education, and business meetings. Attempts at using normal telephony networks to transmit slow-scan video, such as the first systems developed by AT&T Corporation, first researched in the 1950s, failed mostly due to the poor picture quality and the lack of efficient video compression techniques. The greater 1 MHz bandwidth and 6 Mbit/s bit rate of the Picturephone in the 1970s also did not achieve commercial success, mostly due to its high cost, but also due to a lack of network effect —with only a few hundred Picturephones in the world, users had extremely few contacts they could actually call to, and interoperability with other videophone systems would not exist for decades.
It was only in the 1980s that digital telephony transmission networks became possible, such as with ISDN networks, assuring a minimum bit rate (usually 128 kilobits/s) for compressed video and audio transmission. During this time, there was also research into other forms of digital video and audio communication. Many of these technologies, such as the Media space, are not as widely used today as videoconferencing but were still an important area of research. The first dedicated systems started to appear in the market as ISDN networks were expanding throughout the world. One of the first commercial videoconferencing systems sold to companies came from PictureTel Corp., which had an Initial Public Offering in November, 1984.
In 1984 Concept Communication in the United States replaced the then-100 pound, US$100,000 computers necessary for teleconferencing with a $12,000 circuit board which doubled the video frame rate from to 30 frames per second, and which was reduced the equipment in size to a circuit board that fit into standard personal computers. The company also secured a patent for a codec for full-motion videoconferencing, first demonstrated at AT&T Bell Labs in 1986.
Videoconferencing systems throughout the 1990s rapidly evolved from very expensive proprietary equipment, software and network requirements to a standards based technology that is readily available to the general public at a reasonable cost.
Finally, in the 1990s, IP (Internet Protocol) based videoconferencing became possible, and more efficient video compression technologies were developed, permitting desktop, or personal computer (PC)-based videoconferencing. In 1992 CU-SeeMe was developed at Cornell by Tim Dorcey et al. In 1995 the first public videoconference between North America and Africa took place, linking a technofair in San Francisco with a techno-rave and cyberdeli in Cape Town. At the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Nagano, Japan, Seiji Ozawa conducted the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony simultaneously across five continents in near-real time.
While videoconferencing technology was initially used primarily within internal corporate communication networks, one of the first community service usages of the technology started in 1992 through a unique partnership with PictureTel and IBM Corporations which at the time were promoting a jointly developed desktop based videoconferencing product known as the PCS/1. Over the next 15 years, Project DIANE (Diversified Information and Assistance Network) grew to utilize a variety of videoconferencing platforms to create a multistate cooperative public service and distance education network consisting of several hundred schools, neighborhood centers, libraries, science museums, zoos and parks, public assistance centers, and other community oriented organizations.
In the 2000s, videotelephony was popularized via free Internet services such as Skype and iChat, web plugins and on-line telecommunication programs which promoted low cost, albeit low-quality, videoconferencing to virtually every location with an Internet connection.
In May 2005, the first high definition video conferencing systems, produced by LifeSize Communications, were displayed at the Interop trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada, able to provide 30 frames per second at a 1280 by 720 display resolution. Polycom introduced its first high definition video conferencing system to the market in 2006. As of the 2010s high definition resolution for videoconferencing became a popular feature, with most major suppliers in the videoconferencing market offering it.
Technological developments in the 2010s by videoconferencing developers have extended the capabilities of video conferencing systems beyond the boardroom for use with hand-held mobile devices that combine the use of video, audio and on-screen drawing capabilities broadcasting in real-time over secure networks, independent of location. Mobile collaboration systems now allow multiple people in previously unreachable locations, such as workers on an off-shore oil rig, the ability to view and discuss issues with colleagues thousands of miles away. Traditional videoconferencing system manufacturers have begun providing mobile applications as well, such as those that allow for live and still image streaming.
Webcams: 1991 to present
First developed in 1991, a webcam was pointed at the Trojan Room coffee pot in the Cambridge University Computer Science Department. The camera was finally switched off on August 22, 2001. The final image captured by the camera can still be viewed at its homepage. The oldest webcam still operating is FogCam at San Francisco State University, which has been running continuously since 1994.
The first commercial webcam, the black-and-white QuickCam, entered the marketplace in 1994, created by the U.S. computer company Connectix (which sold its product line to Logitech in 1998). QuickCam was available in August 1994 for the Apple Macintosh, connecting via a serial port, at a cost of $100. Jon Garber, the designer of the device, had wanted to call it the "Mac-camera", but was overruled by Connectix's marketing department; a version with a PC-compatible serial port and software for Microsoft Windows was launched in October 1995. The original QuickCam provided 320x240-pixel resolution with a grayscale depth of 16 shades at 60 frames per second, or 256 shades at 15 frames per second.
One of the most widely reported-on webcam sites was JenniCam, created in 1996, which allowed Internet users to observe the life of its namesake constantly, in the same vein as the reality TV series Big Brother, launched four years later. Other cameras are mounted overlooking bridges, public squares, and other public places, their output made available on a public web page in accordance with the original concept of a "webcam". Aggregator websites have also been created, providing thousands of live video streams or up-to-date still pictures, allowing users to find live video streams based on location or other criteria.
Around the turn of the 21st century, computer hardware manufacturers began building webcams directly into laptop and desktop screens, thus eliminating the need to use an external USB or FireWire camera. Gradually webcams came to be used more for telecommunications, or videotelephony, between two people, or among several people, than for offering a view on a Web page to an unknown public.
The term 'webcam' (a portmanteau) may also be used in its original sense of a video camera connected to the Web continuously for an indefinite time, rather than for a particular session, generally supplying a view for anyone who visits its web page over the Internet. Some of them, for example, those used as online traffic cameras, are expensive, rugged professional video cameras.
For less than US$100 in 2012, a Three-dimensional space webcam became available, producing videos and photos in 3D Anaglyph image with a resolution up to 1280 x 480 pixels. Both sender and receiver of the images must use 3D glasses to see the effect of three dimensional image.
Telepresence: 1993 to present
The term telepresence was coined in a 1980 article by the U.S. cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky, who outlined his vision for an adapted version of the older concept of teleoperation that focused on giving a remote participant a feeling of actually being present at a different location.
The first commercially successful telepresence company, Teleport (which was later renamed TeleSuite), was founded in 1993 by David Allen and Herold Williams. Before TeleSuite, they ran a resort business from which the original concept emerged, because they often found businesspeople would have to cut their stays short to participate in important meetings. Their idea was to develop a technology that would allow businesspeople to attend their meetings without leaving the resorts so that they could lengthen their hotel stays.
Hilton Hotels had originally licensed to install them in their hotels throughout the United States and other countries, but use was low. The idea lost momentum, with Hilton eventually backing out. TeleSuite later began to focus less on the hospitality industry and more on business-oriented telepresence systems. Shareholders eventually held enough stock to replace the company's original leadership, which ultimately led to its collapse. David Allen purchased all of the assets of TeleSuite and appointed Scott Allen as president, and Brian Kinne as EVP of the new company called Destiny Conferencing.
Destiny Conferencing licensed its patent portfolio to HP which became the first large company to join the telepresence industry, soon followed by others such as Cisco and Polycom. After forming a distribution agreement with Pleasanton-based Polycom, Destiny Conferencing sold on January 5, 2007 to Polycom for $60 million.
An important research project in telepresence began in 1990. Located at the University of Toronto, the Ontario Telepresence Project (OTP) was an interdisciplinary effort involving social sciences and engineering. Its final report stated that it "...was a three year, $4.8 million pre-competitive research project whose mandate was to design and field trial advanced media space systems in a variety of workplaces in order to gain insights into key sociological and engineering issues. The OTP, which ended in December 1994, was part of the International Telepresence Project which linked Ontario researchers to their counterparts in four European nations. The Project’s major sponsor was the Province of Ontario, through two of its Centres of Excellence—the Information Technology Research Centre (ITRC) and the Telecommunications Research Institute of Ontario (TRIO)." 
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- The $500M figure is attributed only to the AT&T and Bell Labs' 15 year program covering its Picturephone Mod I and Mod II versions. Earlier videotelephony programs during the later half of the 1920s, the 1930s, late-1940s and the 1950s, plus the AT&T VideoPhone 2500 model program of the late-1980s led to a cumulative cost which approached, by some estimates, one billion dollars in total for all videotelephony development.
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